“Mile wide and an inch deep” is something that I catch myself saying more times than I care to admit. It stems from the fact that I believe I know a little about most competitors in my market (enough to be dangerous) but not absolutely everything about their technical or business strategies.
Would I call myself a generalist though? In the harsh light of day, I would have to admit – in the realm of CI, I am a generalist. I cover multiple markets, multiple types of analysis and tend to be a jack of all trades. I pride myself in being able to jump into a new technology market or competitor and come up with insight. However, in the realm of marketing, I’m a specialist. The mile wide and inch deep argument is a little like an iceberg. While I may be covering a large number of competitors, touching and interacting with several business groups and stakeholders, at the core I bring specialized CI skills to the table. Here’s a very top-line explanation of what I mean.
There’s a lot of arguments for and against being a generalist and I’m none the wiser as to what’s the best positioning for a CI professional. Two interesting takes on the argument come from Pras Sarkar, from Yahoo! Research and Seth Godin
Five key tips on being a brilliant generalist according to Pras:
- Stay up-to-date with your area of generalization
- Know what to explore and what to ignore
- Be critical of new technologies
- Visualize the results of all new pursuits and endeavors
- Don’t over-generalize
While Seth swings the opposite way, stating:
“When choice is limited, I want a generalist. When selection is difficult, a jack of all trades is just fine. But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist.”
I tend to side with Seth on this in my case. Proactively positioning myself as a CI Specialist, rather than a generalist. Regardless of what the mile wide part is, the deeper value is the core CI principles, techniques and skills I can bring to a discussion or team. However, Pras’ advice makes a lot of sense for the “mile wide” portion. Using his framework to assess and sanity check what competitors and what markets I need to keep in my periphery.
So how do you position yourself?